The face of Simone Signoret on the Paris Metro movie posters in March 1982 looked even older than her 61 years. She was still a box office draw, but the film, L’étoile du Nord (1982), would be her last theatrical release. She played the landlady. Signoret had a long film apprenticeship during World War II, mostly as an extra and occasionally getting to speak a single line. She was working without an official permit during the Nazi occupation of France, because her father, who had fled to England, was Jewish. Working almost all the time, she made enough as an extra to support her mother and three younger brothers. Her breakthrough to international stardom came at the age of 38 with the British film Room at the Top (1959). Her Alice Aisgill, an unhappily married woman who hopes she has found true love, radiated real warmth in all of her scenes, not just those in bed. She was the same woman as Dedee, a prostitute who finds true love in Dédée d’Anvers (1948), a film directed by Signoret’s first husband, Yves Allégret, a decade earlier. Hollywood beckoned throughout the 1950s, but both Signoret and her second husband, Yves Montand, were refused visas to enter the United States; their progressive political activities did not sit well with the ultra-conservative McCarthy-era mentality that gripped the US at the time. They got visas in 1960 so Montand, as a singer, could perform in New York and San Francisco. They were in Los Angeles in March 1960 when Signoret received the Oscar for best actress and stayed on so Montand could play opposite Marilyn Monroe in Let’s Make Love (1960). The Signoret film that is shown most often on TV and that got a theatrical re-release in 1995, four decades after it was made is the French thriller Diabolique (1955). The chilly character Signoret plays is proof of her acting ability. More typical of her persona is the countess in Ship of Fools (1965), a film that also starred Vivien Leigh–more than doubling its chances of being in a video store or library film collection.
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